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Category:  Recipes

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Appetizers Beyond Black Olives and Stuffed Celery

By Charlie Burke

Appetizers before a holiday dinner in my family were limited to canned black olives, mixed nuts and celery stuffed with cream cheese (I have fond memories of our older son, Kevin, walking around the house with colossal black olives on each finger tip when he was five years old). With attention centered on preparation for the big meal, cooks have little time for preparation of complicated appetizers. With this in mind, I thought we'd offer several ideas which are simple to prepare or can be done ahead. Also, they are light and flavorful so guests will be ready for dinner.

Marinated olives

Salty and colorful, these go well with drinks. These should be prepared a few days ahead and are a great improvement over bland canned olives.

4 cups assorted olives such as calamata, nicoise and Sicilian green. Specialty stores and most supermarkets sell mixes.
Extra virgin olive oil sufficient to cover olives
Zest of 1 lemon, grated (try not to include the white pith which is bitter)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2  teaspoon of oregano or herbes de Provence
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Juice of lemon or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of sea salt

Mix all ingredients and store in a jar or covered container in the refrigerator, giving them a shake occasionally. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Fresh oysters

The briny sweet flavor of Damariscotta oysters may well be remembered long after the holiday meal is forgotten. Whenever we are in mid coastal Maine, my wife and I always find a way to get to Damariscotta and to the Fisherman's Catch, a fish market on the banks of the Damariscotta River, the cleanest estuary on the east coast. Featured at the Fisherman's Catch are farm raised oysters from the river which are the equal of any I've had on either coast. In addition to the freshest fish, they also carry locally smoked salmon, trout, mussels and shrimp. Living in the center of New Hampshire, we find it convenient to give these friendly folks a call and order live oysters which arrive by Fed Ex the next day.

I spoke with owner Gayna Avery who says she can fill orders placed Monday or early Tuesday in time for Wednesday delivery (207-563-5888 or 1-866-232-5888). Keep these numbers to order oysters and smoked seafood for Christmas and New Years.

Shuck oysters (at least 4 per person) and place on a platter of crushed ice. Serve with lemon wedges, a little horseradish , and a small dish of red wine vinegar, chopped shallots and fresh ground pepper. Please no bottled cocktail sauce which masks the delicate flavor. I prefer them plain or with a little lemon juice.

Smoked seafood:

If you order oysters, it won't add much to the shipping to include smoked salmon or other smoked seafood, or check out local smoke houses or fish markets.

Serving is simple: Place salmon or a mix of salmon, trout and mussels on a platter. Add lemon wedges and a cup of mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice, capers and crushed pepper (taste as you mix until you have a mild lemony taste). Supply thin slices of toasted French bread or put the seafood in individual leaves of Belgian endive for a different presentation.

Fruit and cheese:

Blue cheese and fresh pears are a perfect match; simply slice ripe pears, plate and crumble blue cheese (try to find one from New England) over the fruit. Add some chopped pecans or walnuts to finish and you have a quick and quite elegant dish.

I'd like to suggest Farnum Hill ciders to accompany these appetizers; they would also be great with the meal. These are produced and fermented in wood barrels in Lebanon, N.H. and range from semi dry to extra dry. They are great for Thanksgiving because this was the beverage served in colonial times. They no more taste like apple cider than champagne tastes like grape juice. They have low alcohol and can be matchd with any food. The Extra-dry still or Farnum Hill Extra-dry (think brut champagne) would match perfectly with the oysters. Check out their web site:

We hope we've given you some ideas for a fresh approach to a to the upcoming holidays!

An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association ( His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England's newsletter... get a free subscription by sending a blank email to: or visit


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Category:  Recipes

Related Links:  | Recipes |  Cakes & Pies | Cookies | Crockpot | Favorites | Fruit & Punch |
| Grains | Holidays| Meat | Pasta | Quick | Salads and VegetablesWinter | Summer |

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